November 18, 2012 (The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)
The following sermon was preached to the 8:00 service. This was the day of our Bishop's visitation, and we were pleased to welcome the Rt. Rev. Michael Hanley as our preacher and celebrant for the 9:30, 11:00, and Spanish services.
25 Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16,
Hebrews 10:11-25, Mark 13:1-8
What a week we have had, for the end of all things. You entered service today to the strains of “Signs of Endings All Around Us”, heard the set of readings known as the “little Apocalypse”, and now turn to me to give you good news.
Meanwhile, during the last seven days, we have learned that Twinkies are now gone forever, and last night, the Ducks lost in overtime to the Stanford Cardinal. Quite aside from the light-hearted side of the Twinkies demise, the more serious problem is the lost of more than 18,000 jobs in this awful economy. Signs of endings are indeed all around us.
Is it any wonder I found myself drawn to Hebrews this week? This anonymous letter focuses on a clear hope in a savior who has already won. In our portion today, our writer expresses a clear Christology as he expresses confidence that God’s people will have their hope realized. Christ the Son of God has defeated death in his own sacrificial death and resurrection. What’s left for us is to live out our lives as God’s people in the world.
With this letter, I am not able to tell you as much of a story as I usually can with our readings. We don’t know much about the author of Hebrews, just that he probably appropriated Paul’s name and reputation. Nor do we know much about the timing or the place of this letter. We can surmise it was before the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., but it seems to have been written to an audience including Gentiles. We just don’t know much about who is writing or to whom this is addressed. But its very lack of specifics can make it easier for us to celebrate its message of clear and certain optimism.
Today, in Saint Mary’s, we will be celebrating a baptism, a number of confirmations, several receptions, and a reaffirmation of faith. All the individuals making these commitments today are adults, or being recognized as an adult in this church. Ten of our fifteen teens who went on Pilgrimage to England have decided to go forward with the commitment of Confirmation, choosing to claim their faith in Christ, and to continue to grow in their faith in many ways and paths as they prepare for the next stage of life. For our other confirmands, two are college students right now, and the rest are adults of varying ages who have had the experience of leaving church and choosing to come back. All these individuals, despite their struggles and doublets, and even in conversation with these doubts, chose a community like St. Mary’s to live into their faith.
This reading from Hebrews is incredibly appropriate for a day like this, when these major faith commitments are made. Adults are the ones, after all, who have to experience the pain and struggle of every day life, and live out the choice to dwell in hope, placing our trust in Christ.
This means that what is happening today in confirmation, adult baptism, reception, and reaffirmation is really cool. We are experiencing both the intellect and the emotion of our faith. We are the thinking church. As Episcopalians, we want to engage our minds in the exercise of our faith, as well as our hearts. I do confess that our opening hymn, “Signs of Endings”, is one of my favorites. I love the rhythm and the key, and I am always excited to sing it. That is what I mean when I say our worship seeks to engage our hearts. It is such a neat experience when the organ, the liturgy, the lighting combines to allow us to experience worship as a feeling. And to me, in addition to the gut feeling that something is happening between us and our God, I also treasure that we celebrate the intellectual. Our worship liberates us, feeds our hearts, even as we value the intellect and brains.
That is exactly what the Hebrews reading is about. Hebrews expresses trust in the great high priest, Jesus, who has already won the great battle. Yet the author knows that, then as now, we still live in the great in-between. It walks that tightrope between the intellectual understanding that we still have to struggle in our lives and the emotional feeling of trust in God’s eternal providence. We hope that our trust in God is not misplaced, we trust that Christ is our great high priest, we hold fast to the confession of that hope in our daily prayers, our weekly worship, in our confirmations, baptisms, and adult proclamations of faith.
Hebrews gives us our answer, with its call to perseverance. The author calls us to God’s house, with our hearts sprinkled clean in the waters of baptism. The author reminds us to hold fast in the confession of our faith, for God is faithful to God’s people. And most importantly: he describes to us how we maintain that hope.
He tells us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds”, to meet together, and encourage one another all the more as the end of all things approaches.
Even a casual attendee will be invited in our services to any number of outreach and inreach ministries, from hosting families for Family Night Shelter to cooking meals for our friends in Meals in Motion. We meet together at any one of six times weekly for regular worship, with additional fellowship options regularly occurring. And I am so often encouraged by the hopefulness and courage of the people of St. Mary’s. There is so much that is good and right that happens here with this people of God, and it is so hope-filled to experience that.
Thanks be to God for the eternal hope we have in Christ Jesus. And thanks be to God for God’s people present here today.